What we mean, what we think we mean, and how language surprises us

In E. Romero & B. Soria (eds.), Explicit Communication: Robyn Carston's Pragmatics. Palgrave (2010)
In uttering a sentence we are often taken to assert more than its literal meaning — though we sometimes assert less. Robyn Carston and others take this phenomenon to show that what is said or asserted by a speaker on an occasion of utterance is usually a contextuallyenriched version of the semantic content of the sentence. I shall argue that we can resist this conclusion if we recognize that what we think we are asserting, or take others to be asserting, involves selective attention to one of the ways a sentence could be true and neglects others. Most of the time people converge in their selective attention and so communication is not impaired. Though in the case of sentences involving predicates of taste, people’s attention to different aspect of the truth conditions leads to seemingly intractable disputes. I will propose a treatment of such cases on which speakers mean the same by a sentence, assert no more than its semantic content, hold conflicting opinions about its truth-value, and are both right.
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